All day long, in between attending to sundry household chores and doing what I do 340 days a year to make a living, I have been watching the TV and surfing the Net to follow the coverage of Barack Hussein Obama’s spectacular and epoch-making electoral victory.
While he has all my most earnest admiration and good wishes for his Presidency, here are a few things that I have been thinking about:
1. It is for no flimsy reason that America and the world are equally breathless today: the USA has at last made good on the most fundamental promise of the world’s first (and arguably grandest) written constitution, and on Lincoln’s ideal, and on Martin Luther King’s dream – and they couldn’t have found a better man to personify and energise the whole thing. They finally have a black man in the world’s most powerful office. I hope they have a woman there soon, too.
2. Obama’s campaign was the most expensive, the most intense, the most inclusive, and perhaps the longest that America has ever seen. On top of that, the man’s personal charisma has been truly awesome – in the original and not current grossly cheapened sense of the word (lots of normally staid and balanced people are now openly comparing him with JFK), and that has gone a very long way to swing the vote in a way that would have been unthinkable maybe even two decades ago (besides seeing a level of voter turnout that most pundits would have called unthinkable even a few weeks ago). One more proof, if proof was ever needed, that individuals matter, now as always in history.
3. As so many people have been pointing out, the President-elect, who has just announced that ‘change has come to America!’ will have an overflowing in-tray on his very first day in the Oval Office, and all of them problems of the stickiest and most urgent sort. He needs the whole world’s best wishes – if only because as things stand today, so much on the world depends on what happens to the US of A. I was listening to Barkha Dutt in Chicago talking about the enormous ‘burden of expectations’ on his shoulders, I have been listening to various experts gloomily warning that he has very few choices and very little room for manouevre, and very little time before the ecstatic dreams begin to sour, and Anand Mahindra the industrialist reminding everybody on NDTV that it will take incredible luck, talent, vision and energy to manage the intense racial (as well as rich-poor) polarisation that has happened in the process of this election – and no matter how much Obama himself or superstars like Oprah gush on TV that this is about all of America ('we are, and always will be, the United States of America'), and about change that everyone everywhere wants, there are very tough times ahead for the new President. The best thing going in his favour is that he seems to be so remarkably calm and unruffled and confident about what he is going to have to do. A man like that deserves the world’s best wishes, too.
4. I was much moved by the grace with which senator John McCain publicly conceded defeat. You need to be a truly big man, and it helps to live in a really nice society, to be able to do that sort of thing. I wish and pray that we Indians learn a few lessons about how to live public lives in high places from this example (I am reminded of how prime minister AB Vajpayee said after the terrorist attack on our Parliament house that where the leader of the Opposition – he meant Sonia Gandhi who had just rung him up – enquires anxiously after the PM’s health and safety, democracy is safe. I wish I could be so sure!)
5. I am as sure as any TV-expert that no big change is going to happen soon in connection with the US policy towards India. So if I am still so interested in this whole thing, it is because elite Indians love to talk about this country as the world’s biggest democracy, which therefore has 'natural and deep harmonies' with the way America thinks and acts. I hope a lot more of us reflect on how true that is!